Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Papyrocentric Performativity is a sub-site of Overlord of the Über-Feral, where further book-reviews are sometimes posted.

Powerful in PatchesThe Kraken Wakes (1953) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), John Wyndham

Twists in the TaleNo Comebacks: Collected Short Stories, Frederick Forsyth (1972)

A Hundred HeresiarchsBowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life, John O’Connell (Bloomsbury 2020)

Flight for LifeFlight of the Phoenix, Elleston Trevor (1964)

A Goggle at GogolCollected Tales, Nikolai Gogol, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin 1999)

Posted at Overlord of the Über-Feral

ChlorokillThe Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)

The Kraken Wakes (1953) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), John Wyndham

The more I re-read John Wyndham, the more I recognize the genius of H.G. Wells. Where Wells wrote powerful books, Wyndham wrote powerful patches. And Wyndham obviously wished he could be Wells. One big example: The Kraken Wakes (1953) is pretty much The War of the Worlds (1897) played in a different key. And not played very well. In both books, the Earth is colonized by super-advanced aliens – or rather it isn’t in Wyndham’s book, because his aliens are from a planet whose atmosphere is at very high pressure. So they’re not interested in the surface of our planet, only in the deepest parts of the ocean. Their ships don’t land-and-open, but splash-and-sink.

That means there’s no good reason for them to come into conflict with humanity. They’re down there; we’re up here: never the twain need meet and quarrel. Wyndham has to contrive conflict to keep the plot going. And so the book has some effective patches – the initial wave of spherical alien ships shooting through the atmosphere and splashing down in the ocean; black, slug-like alien tanks crawling out of the sea to drag humans off with sticky tentacles – but doesn’t work as a whole. It’s also got a lot of irritating sub-Coward-esque dialogue between the husband-and-wife journalists who the story is told through. Although Wells wrote decades before Wyndham, his books have dated much less in some ways. Where Wyndham was stiff and stilted, Wells was smooth and sinuous.

Some of these criticisms also apply to The Midwich Cuckoos. But less so: this plot isn’t a re-write of Wells but a Wyndham original. And a good one, at first: a middling English village called Midwich has a “Day Out” when it’s the centre of what you could call a sphere of sleep. That is, every outsider who crosses a certain boundary falls into a deep sleep – the same deep sleep as every animate creature already inside the boundary. Then Midwich wakes up and everything seems to go back to normal. But not for long. It slowly becomes apparent that nearly every fertile woman in the village is pregnant and that they must have been impregnated during the still-unexplained Dayout.

The Cuckoos of the book’s title are in the womb and on their way. When they arrive, they have golden eyes and very strong wills. So strong, in fact, that even as babies they can make other people do their bidding. In other words, they’re telepathic. Then they start growing – and learning – with uncanny speed. They’re aliens, alright. And to keep the plot going, Wyndham needs to bring them into conflict with humanity. And humanity doesn’t stand much of a chance with super-children like these. After the children enter their teens, the ordinary villagers of Midwich turn on them and try to attack the government institute in which they’re now being educated. So the children simply will the villagers into attacking – and killing – each other. Which brings the children into conflict with the police. This is an extract from the ironically titled chapter called “Interview with a Child”, when the Chief Constable of the district tries to exert his authority over an uncooperative golden-eyed boy:

“You damned little blackguard! You insufferable little prig! How dare you speak to me like that? Do you understand that I represent the police force of this country? If you don’t, it’s time you learnt it, and I’ll see that you do, b’God! […]”

He broke off suddenly, and sat staring at the boy. […] The Chief Constable’s mouth went slack, his jaws fell a little, his eyes widened, and seemed to go on widening. His hair rose slightly. Sweat burst out on his forehead, at his temples, and came trickling down his face. Inarticulate gobblings came from his mouth. Tears ran down the side of his nose. He began to tremble, but seemed unable to move. Then, after long rigid seconds, he did move. He lifted hands that fluttered, and fumbled them towards his face. Behind them, he gave queer thin screams. He slid out of the chair to his knees on the floor, and fell forward. He lay there grovelling, and trembling, and making high whinnying sounds as he clawed at the carpet, trying to dig himself into it. Suddenly he vomited.

That is an effective – and unpleasant – description of someone having their amygdalae hijacked. The children can interfere directly with the brain of anyone they please. Which is a disturbing thought to go with other disturbing thoughts in the book – Wyndham always mixed horror into his science-fiction. But as with The Kraken Wakes, I don’t think he contrives the conflict between aliens and humanity very well. If the children are so clever, why are they so openly arrogant and self-centered? And why are they so obviously alien? They should have kept their heads down and grown to their full powers, then revealed their hostile intentions. But they didn’t need to spend so long doing that either. The alien race from which they came had the power to somniferate-and-impregnate Midwich – and other places around the world, it becomes apparent. But if the aliens could do all that, why did they need to act like cuckoos?

No, the book doesn’t make sense, as a whole. It’s probably better to read it as the transcript of a dream or nightmare than as a conventional SF novel. But Wyndham’s pedestrian prose makes it difficult to read it as oneiro-lit: his books also make me recognize the genius of J.G. Ballard more. All the same, The Midwich Cuckoos might be Wyndham’s best book and the big questions it raises haven’t gone away. On the contrary, they’ve got more relevant than ever. Advances in genetics, neurology and cybernetics mean that super-children and direct interference with the brain aren’t far off, one way or another. What will happen when they arrive? John Wyndham asked that more than half-a-century ago. He wasn’t a literary giant like Wells or Ballard but his books are still well worth reading. And re-reading.


Elsewhere other-accessible…

ChlorokillThe Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)

No Comebacks: Collected Short Stories, Frederick Forsyth (1972)

My ideal thriller-writer would write like Ian Fleming and plot like Frederick Forsyth. Fleming’s prose is excellent and his plots are good. Forsyth’s plots are excellent and his prose is not-so-good. In fact, I’m inclined to agree with Stephen King, who once said that English didn’t appear to be Forsyth’s mother-tongue.

You can see Forsyth’s big strength and big weakness in this collection of short stories. The plots are clever and the prose is weak. Although he’s not at his best in a short story – he’s a long-distance runner, not a sprinter – there are some good twists-in-the-tale and some good insights into the-way-the-world-works. Particularly the criminal parts of the world.

For example, how do you go about hijacking a truck with 9,000 bottles of brandy on board? Forsyth tells you in interesting and entertaining detail in a story called “There Are Some Days…”. And to do that he also has to tell you about what driving a truck like that involves. In this case, the truck is travelling from Le Havre to Dublin, so you get a glimpse into the life of an Irish driver called Liam Clarke. And then some glimpses into the complicated history and politics of Ireland, north and south. Because the hijacking in Dublin is for the benefit of some racketeers in the north.

At least, it’s supposed to be for their benefit, but things don’t go as planned. That’s not a spoiler, because you’ll know as soon as you see the title of the story. It’s not a very good title, presumably because Forsyth chose it himself. Words aren’t his strength. Nor is characterization. But I enjoyed this collection and I think it will sharpen my appreciation of his novels when I re-read them. Some of the stories are set in Ireland, some in France and England, one on the island of Mauritius. Most of them work well as entertainment, if not as high literature. The most memorable is definitely the title story, “No Comebacks”, which has a particularly kinky twist-in-the-tail. But I think I enjoyed “There Are Some Days…” best. I learned from it and I laughed with it.

Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life, John O’Connell (Bloomsbury 2020)

I was like millions of others when David Bowie died: my mind immediately flew to how much I meant to me. Sorry: how much I meant to him. Sorry, sorry: how much he meant to me.

And to signal how much he meant to me, I listened to an album I’d neglected for shamefully long: Jethro Tull’s Broadsword and the Beast (1982). Because David Bowie meant bugger-all to me by then and the hype surrounding his death just confirmed what I felt. Or didn’t feel, rather. Okay, I liked him once and Ziggy Stardust (1972) used to be one of my favorite albums. But I thought he got rubbish in the 1980s and even when I liked him I thought some of his lyrics were bad. “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” Am I missing something or is that one of the laziest lines ever sung?

I’d go for the latter. But yes, I know that, musically and culturally speaking, Jethro Tull are Maidstone United to David Bowie’s Manchester United. But I find the Maidstone Uniteds of this world more interesting than the Manchester Uniteds. And it would be funny if, in the end, Jethro Tull turned out to have been on a truer track, musically and culturally speaking, than Bowie was.

So, anyway: long story short, I’m not interested in Bowie no more and I thought I would never read or write a review of anything about him. But I looked at this book in a library and the back-cover had a question from an interview with Mr B: “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” To which his answer was: “Reading.”

Good answer! So I got the book out and tried to read it. Tried and succeeded, because it wasn’t the Guardianista grind I thought it might be. No, there’s clear, unpretentious prose to go with the crisp, clean design. The sub-title is hype – I don’t believe it’s possible to have a “Hundred Literary Heroes” who change your life – but that’s down to the publisher, not the author. Bowie chose the hundred books here towards the end of his life and John O’Connell does a good job of describing their creators and contents as he fits them into Bowie’s life and music. He even recommends songs by Bowie to accompany each book: “V2-Schneider” for Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) and “There Is A Happy Land” for Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar (1959), for example. In fact, the worst thing I can say about Bowie’s Books is that it doesn’t have an index. Which was annoying, but again it’s down to the publisher, not the author.

I did expect to find other bad things, but they didn’t materialize. That’s because I expected the list of 100 books to have lots by William Burroughs, Cormac McCarthy, Alan Moore and similar geniuses. But I was wrong. It didn’t. There was not one book by the aforementioned. What a relief! But there were two by George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Inside the Whale (1940), and two by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962) and Earthly Powers (1980). And one by Evelyn Waugh. Not a very good one, though: Vile Bodies (1930). But one is better than nothing.

Particularly because Waugh’s inclusion was a pleasant surprise. Elsewhere I had a few more surprises and two disappointments. What were the disappointments? There was nothing by J.G. Ballard and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m certain Bowie must have read them, but they didn’t make the cut, for some reason or other. That was disappointing – and puzzling, particularly for Ballard. You’d’ve thought he was the perfect author for Bowie: hallucinogenic, disturbing, obsessed with madness, sex and inner space. You could describe Ballard as Bowie on paper or Bowie as Ballard on vinyl. And they were near contemporaries. Which H.P.L. wasn’t, but again I’d’ve thought he would have appealed strongly to Bowie. Not enough to win inclusion here, it seems.

And what were the surprises? Well, I wasn’t surprised by books like Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), but I was by Viz (1979-present) and The Beano (founded 1938). Not to mention Homer’s Iliad (8th Century BC). Bowie was an eclectic reader. But nowhere near as eclectic as he could have been, because there’s nothing about science or mathematics in the list, except maybe Julian Jaynes’ The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976).

Apart from that, it’s all novels, short stories, poetry, history and cultural commentary. The sort of thing you’d expect a Guardianista-with-an-arts-degree to come up with. John O’Connell, the author of this book about Bowie’s books, is definitely one of those and Bowie definitely appeals a heck of a lot to people like that. But I’d say he wasn’t a fully fledged Guardianista himself, although he did occasionally display one of the Marks of the Beast. According to O’Connell, Bowie said this about Brian Eno in an interview with the NME in 1977:

He’s a man with peculiar notions, some of which I can come to terms with very easily and are most accessible, and some of it is way above my head, mate, in terms of his analytic studies of cybernetics and his application of those things to music and his general sort of fine arts approach.

That horrible Guardianista phrase “in terms of” should be replaced with “like” or “with”. But I can tell my true feelings about Bowie from my feelings about his use of “in terms of”. I don’t think it suits him, so deep down I must still like him. What a relief for Bowie! I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of his again, mind, but I can recommend this book to anyone who is.

• “Our ability to mind our own business is inversely proportional to the emptiness of our lives.” — Norman Nekrophile waxes philosophical whilst accepting his “Best Editor” award at the Golden Gargoyles, 2019

• “It’s impossible to mind your own business when you have an empty soul, an empty mind and an empty life.” — Norman Nekrophile waxes philosophical again whilst accepting his “Best Subject of a Super-Sizzlingly Seminal Biography” award for Slime-Sniffer: The Norman Nekrophile Story at the Golden Gargoyles, 2020

What korely key kounter-kultural kwotation will Norman Nekrophile kum up with at this year’s Golden Gargoyles dot dot dot question mark question mark question mark


Norman Nekrophile will need no introduction to keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community. His latest book is Snuff. Is. Never. Enuff.: A Seasoned Slime-Sniffer Sniffs Out the Toxickest Transgressivities of Tobacco-Based Snorting Substances (TransVisceral Books 2021)

As the toxic stench of Trump fades further in our nevertheless-still-traumatized nostrils, how better to continue the year here at Papyrocentric Performativity than with an exclusive extract from the forthcoming compendium Morbidlier Miriam: Interviews, Out-Takes and Interrogations Around the Psychoanalyst of the Century (TransVisceral Books 2021)? Huh?

The “Psychoanalyst of the Century” is, of course, that long-standing Papyrocentric favorite Dr Miriam B. Stimbers, whom we join as she and a closely committed colleague contemplate core issues around what many believe to be Dr Stimbers’ finest work to date: the epoch-erecting, paradigm-pulverizing Jane in Blood: Castration, Clitoridolatry and Communal Cannibalism in the Novels of Jane Austen (University of Nebraska Press 2014)…

Rebecca Rubinberg: Miriam, can I just say at the very outset that it is so good to see you back and looking so well after the unfortunate events of late 2020? [Editor’s note: Miriam slumped into a coma in September 2020 due to unendurable trauma around white racism and white supremacy.]

Miriam Stimbers: Thank you, Rebecca. It’s good to be back for me, also.

Rebecca Rubinberg: You know, your coma was a difficult time, a truly difficult time, for me, for so many of your friends and admirers. One moment we’d be experiencing a jolt of joy in terms of the political situation. You know, it would strike us: “He’s gone, he’s gone! That pure-bred SOB is gone, gone, gone! He’s finally gone!” Next moment, we’d crash back to earth in terms of our friendship with you: “Hey, but Miriam’s still in a coma!”

Miriam Stimbers: Many people have said this to me since my recovery, that their joy around his departure was constantly counterpointed by their distress around my coma-situation. And I thank you all for it. It’s truly humbling to think of how many good people, decent people, had me in their thoughts on such a regular basis.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Regular as clockwork, Miriam. But we also had you on our reading lists! So many people have said to me that they began re-reading your books during your coma, in a kind of psychic solidarity. We weren’t just thinking of you – in a sense, we were thinking as you, whilst reading your books. And, of course, we all redoubled our efforts to introduce your books to new readers, to as many new readers as possible.

Miriam Stimbers: Again, thank you, thank you so much.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Believe me, promoting your work is no hardship. I’ve always loved – and particularly so in your case – I’ve always loved introducing new folk to one of my favorite authors. As I’ve always said: we can only read a classic for the first time once. But we can do the next-best thing as many times as we like. And the next-best thing is persuading someone else to read that classic for the first time. Your back-catalog is bursting with classics, but one book invariably comes to mind when one is considering the much-vexed “Best Book” question in terms of the Stimbibliography, as your close-knit fan-community have come to call it. That one book is, of course, Jane in Blood: Castration, Clitoridolatry and Communal Cannibalism in the Novels of Jane Austen (University of Nebraska Press 2014).

Miriam Stimbers: Again, thank you, thank you so much. I’m glad that so many people have appreciated Jane in Blood and have said so many good things about it.

Rebecca Rubinberg: It’s easy to say good things about Jane in Blood, Miriam! Very easy. But let’s just get one small but essential issue thoroughly engaged before we discuss the book further. That wonderful word in the subtitle, “clitoridolatry” – am I saying it right? – yes, “clitoridolatry”. Almost invariably people who notice that word in the subtitle, that truly wonderful word, will ask: “What the hell does it mean?” ’Cept they don’t usually say “the hell”! You know the kind of folk I associate with! So let’s engage that small but essential issue. “Clitoridolatry” – what does it mean?

Miriam Stimbers: At its simplest, it means clitoris-worship.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Wow. Clitoris-worship. Clitoridolatry means worship-of-the-clitoris. A wonderful word, a wonderful concept. Clit-or-id-o-latry, worship of the amazing, the awesome, the oh-so-often-and-unjustly-overlooked clitoris. And I hope we’ll explore issues around the clitoris, around clitoridolatry, around Jane Austen and the clitoris, in a little more depth before the end of our time together. In the meantime, let me say this, Miriam: if creation of that wonderful word and exploration of that wonderful concept were all you did in Jane in Blood, it would make the book pure gold. Yes, pure gold. Enough to justify your career ten times over, believe me. But that word and that concept are only part of Jane in Blood. A central part, an essential part, but only a part! Wow. Accordingly, I have to say it. “Classic” is not a strong enough word for Jane in Blood. Uh-uh. No way. “Core classic”, no, that’s not strong enough either. I’d go with “cataclysmic classic”. Clitoridolatrically cataclysmic classic! How does that sound?

Miriam Stimbers: It sounds both tongue-twisting and very flattering.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Flattering shmattering, Miriam! I am being sincere here, totally sincere. Jane in Blood is a cataclysmic classic, a clitoridolatrically cataclysmic classic. And I’m not the only one who believes that. Indeed, I know that, on a daily basis, there are many new folk who come to believe the same.

Miriam Stimbers: I’d like to think so.

Rebecca Rubinberg: No, you gotta know so, Miriam. There are, there most definitely are, many new folk who, on a daily basis, are introduced to Jane in Blood and instantly recognize it as a cataclysmic classic. And I do my best to swell their numbers, believe me! As I’ve told you before, one thing I love to do is this, it’s that I hand new folk a copy of Jane in Blood and I say, you know, I say casually, “Try this, see what you think”, and I watch them open it and begin reading. And I just wait, I really do, I just wait for the magical moment at which I see their jaws drop. And invariably their jaws do drop!

Miriam Stimbers (laughing): Well, so you’ve always told me.

Rebecca Rubinberg: And I wouldn’t lie to you, Miriam. Never would I lie to you. And I’ll just add this: 2’38”. That’s the longest it’s taken so far for a jaw to drop. I time them, you see. I hand them a copy of Jane in Blood and I say “Try this” and I watch them and I time them. I time them from the moment they open the book till the moment their jaws drop. Chang! Just like that, down drops the jaw. And 2’38”, that’s the longest I’ve seen so far, I kid you not. But the average time till jaw-drop must be well under a minute. On my gyno’s life!

Miriam Stimbers (laughing again): Well, it’s a challenging book.

Rebecca Rubinberg: It is certainly that – and much more beside! But do you yourself believe, as I do, as many, many of your admirers do, that it is your best book?

Miriam Stimbers: I truly couldn’t say. I could say, perhaps, that it was – that it has been – my most fulfilling book to date. You know, it’s been the book in which I felt that I had come closest to saying all I wanted to say in the best possible way I could. So yes, I could say, I would say, that it’s been my most fulfilling book to date.

Rebecca Rubinberg: It’s fulfilled you, Miriam, and it’s fulfilled me, and it’s fulfilled many, many people. But not all people, by no means, because not everyone responds to it positively. Some people, most people, respond positively, very positively. A work of genius, I’ve had people tell me. An unforgettable book, a groundbreaking book, a work of scholarship like no other they had ever read or imagined possible. Yes, positive responses, many, many positive responses. But as you yourself are only too well aware, with those many, many positive responses come not a few negative responses.

Miriam Stimbers: Yes.

Rebecca Rubinberg: For example, I’ve had one individual – and forgive me, but I’m going to be completely candid around what he said. I’ve had one individual – I won’t name him here, you know him, I won’t name him – I’ve had one individual tell me that Jane in Blood is bullshit. Yes, his exact words. Complete bullshit, he told me, bullshit on steroids, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Forgive me, but that’s he said. And he said more. Shouted rather – jabbing a finger aggressively, very aggressively in my face. This Stimbers, he shouted, what is she, some kind of crackpot? Is she on mind-altering drugs? I mean, look at her spouting this bullshit, this complete bullshit, over so many pages. Or maybe she’s a joker, a satirist? Because where’s her evidence? There is no cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen, communal or otherwise, he shouted. None, none, none, none whatsoever. There’s no castration, there’s no clitor-whatever-the-fuck. It’s bullshit, complete bullshit. Forgive me, but that’s what he said. And/or shouted.

Miriam Stimbers: That is, if I may say, a very male reaction.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Miriam, you took the words right out of my mouth. Very male. A very male reaction.

Miriam Stimbers: Asking for evidence like that.

Rebecca Rubinberg: And for logic, also. He specifically said also that was no logic in your quote fucking bullshit thesis unquote. His exact words. No logic in her fucking bullshit thesis, unquote.

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, that’s a very male reaction, asking for evidence and logic. That isn’t how Freudian analysis works, how psychoanalysis, in the deepest sense of the words, works. Not at all. Of course, yes, on the surface, as this unpleasantly aggressive individual said to you, there is no communal cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen. Castration, also, and clitoridolatry, yes, on the surface, they’re not there.

Rebecca Rubinberg: On the surface, yes, of course. They’re not there. But Jane in Blood dives beneath the surface.

Miriam Stimbers: Exactly. It dives beneath the surface, into the depths, into the darkness. Because I wanted to ask why – why, on the surface, is there no communal cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen? And the next step is obvious: Okay, it’s not there on the surface, so what is Jane trying to hide? Because she’s a writer, a human being, we all try to hide things, continually, consciously, subconsciously, from ourselves and from others. And by not writing about communal cannibalism, is Jane not, in a very real sense, highlighting the absence of communal cannibalism and thereby, to the psychoanalytic eye, bringing that unwritten-of communal cannibalism to the forefront of her ostensibly innocent narrative? Because Freud teaches us that the less something is there, the more in fact it may actually be there.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Less is more?

Miriam Stimbers: Exactly. Less is more. And so it’s precisely when something is not there at all that in fact it may be most there of all.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Absence is presence!

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, as I write in the book, absence is presence. The insistence on not being there powers the creation ex nihilo, as it were. Because, in a sense, a very real sense, the less something is there, the more we can see that it’s being suppressed, the more we know that energy is being poured into denying something, into saying – saying by not saying – no, no, I’m not interested in this topic, I’m not attracted to this forbidden thing. And when something is not there at all, it’s being suppressed most of all, being repressed most of all. You can’t get more repressed than total absence. And so by insisting so vehemently on not writing about communal cannibalism, on the surface, Jane Austen is, in a psychoanalytic sense, writing about nothing but communal cannibalism. All roads lead to communal cannibalism, as it were.

Rebecca Rubinberg: And to castration, clitoridolatry, also.

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, to these topics, also. On the surface, Jane Austen avoids them completely. And that precise absence, for any sensitive psychoanalyst, must immediately raise a red flag.

Rebecca Rubinberg: A blood-red flag?

Miriam Stimbers: Yes. You put it very well. A blood-red flag. Why is Jane avoiding these very dangerous topics? Why is she censoring herself so ruthlessly, so effectively?

Rebecca Rubinberg: Because she’s scared of these topics?

Miriam Stimbers: In a sense, yes, because she’s scared of these topics, and in a sense, no, not because she’s scared, but because she’s attracted. She’s attracted to these topics, to these dangerous, these oh-so-dangerous deeds. And she’s scared of being attracted, so she censors herself, she reassures herself that, no, I don’t want to do these things, these dark, dangerous things. But really she does. She does want to do them.

Rebecca Rubinberg: She wants to castrate the patriarchs who are oppressing her?

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, she wants to castrate them.

Rebecca Rubinberg: And she wants her clitoris worshipped?

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, she wants it worshipped.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Good and proper?

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, good and proper.

Rebecca Rubinberg: But most of all, she wants to take part in a cannibal feast? In communal cannibalism?

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, most of all she wants communal cannibalism, she wants to feast on forbidden flesh in the company of others.

Rebecca Rubinberg: And that’s what she wants most of all, because that’s what she’s writing about least of all.

Miriam Stimbers: Precisely. Less is more, least is most, absence is presence. And that’s when you see the “evidence” that the male mind is always so eager for. When you know that communal cannibalism is there in the novels of Jane Austen after all, you can decipher the linguistic codes speaking around it, you can interpret the symbolism, you can take the mask off the seemingly innocent descriptions of life in that seemingly oh-so-genteel world and discover, underneath, a seething chaos of repressed Dionysiac energies and impulses, just waiting to erupt.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Miriam, you put it so beautifully. And you put it even beautifullier in the book. Thus, for me, for so many people, you establish your quote bullshit fucking thesis unquote beyond peradventure. You lay out your thesis and you prove it. The novels of Jane Austen are not what readers, what literary scholars, have so long assumed them to be. They are lecherous, they are libidinous, they are – what was the word you used? – seething, yes, seething with repressed energies and emotions.

Miriam Stimbers: Seething with repressed Dionysiac energies and impulses. Just waiting to erupt.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Erupt, yes. As you put it in chapter 17, I believe, Jane Austen didn’t just have a vulva between her legs, she had a volcano!

Miriam Stimbers: Yes, chapter 17, pages 281 to 285, I write of the Austenic vulva-volcano, the vulvano. I was, I am, particularly pleased with that conceit.

Rebecca Rubinberg: Not without reason, Miriam! And so, contra the critics, Jane in Blood proves everything it sets out to prove. There is, there are indeed castration and clitoridolatry and communal cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen. Absence is presence! However loudly a particular individual – whom, as I said, I’m not going to name – however loudly he might shout “Bullshit!” However many times he might claim your quote bullshit fucking thesis unquote is bereft of evidence and logic.

Miriam Stimbers: In fact, the louder he shouts, the more he confirms my thesis. That aggressive reaction, that very male reaction to the absence of quote evidence and logic unquote in Jane in Blood is precisely what Freud would have predicted. When so much hostility, so much aggression, so much energy is poured into denying a psychoanalytic thesis, these things are very good signs that the thesis is on target, is correct.

Rebecca Rubinberg: So let me unpack what you’re saying there. You’re saying that the more angrily he shouts that there’s no evidence for communal cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen, the more he’s providing evidence that, in fact, there is communal cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen? Yes?

Miriam Stimbers: Yes. That’s the paradox, the Freudian paradox, the very beautiful Freudian paradox. The more opposition we meet in advancing an allegedly baseless, allegedly evidence-free and logic-less psychoanalytic thesis, the more we can be sure that the thesis is in fact correct.

Rebecca Rubinberg: That is indeed beautiful, Miriam. So beautiful. The deniers deny themselves, destroy themselves. The more they insist on the nullity of a psychoanalytic thesis, the more they prove that the thesis is correct.

Miriam Stimbers: Yes. And there, once again, you have the genius of Dr Sigmund Freud.

[…]

Here ends the exclusive extract from Morbidlier Miriam: Interviews, Out-Takes and Interrogations Around the Psychoanalyst of the Century (TransVisceral Books 2021). To read the rest of the interview – and much more beside! – be sure to grab a copy of the book when it appears later this year. Sign up for updates at TransVisceral Books.

Previously Pre-Posted on Papyrocentric Performativity

#MiToo — a review of Morbidly Miriam: The Mephitic Memoirs of Miriam B. Stimbers, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (TransVisceral Books 2018)
Doc Proc — a review of Botty: An Unnatural History of the Backside, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (TransVisceral Books 2014)
Twice Has Thrice the Vice — Miriam processes the grieving-process of losing a core fish-community

The Flight of the Phoenix, Elleston Trevor (1964)

The English writer Elleston Trevor (1920-95) was a big name in his day, writing a string of acclaimed novels that sold well throughout the English-speaking world. But who remembers him now, more than two decades after his death?

Well, I did – kind of. I knew that I’d greatly enjoyed The Flight of the Phoenix when I last read it, but when I set out to read it again I found I’d forgotten the author. “Elleston Trevor” is not very memorable somehow and perhaps something as trivial as that helps explain why Trevor isn’t a big name any more. But changes in fashion undoubtedly explain more and I found I didn’t like another of his novels when I tried it. But I still liked The Flight of the Phoenix.

And I still admired Trevor’s skill in overcoming one of the biggest challenges a writer can set themself: shrinking the world to a handful of characters in a tightly confined setting. Alistair MacLean overcame that challenge in Night Without End (1959), which took the survivors of a plane-crash and pitted them against ice and cold on the Greenland ice-cap. And maybe Trevor was inspired by Night Without End to write his own story of the survivors of a plane-crash battling harsh conditions to survive. Either way, he out-did MacLean. His prose isn’t as crisp and compelling, but his characters are more rounded and his ideas and expertise are bigger.

He has a better opening line too: “The wind had flung the sand thirty thousand feet above the desert in a blind cloud from the Niger to the Nile, and somewhere in it was the aeroplane.” Sand proves stronger than machinery, so the aeroplane then crashes somewhere in the blazing heat and sand of the “Central Libyan Desert”. The survivors – ten men and a pet monkey – soon realize that something has gone wrong with the rescue. No-one is looking for them and their water will soon run out. So they face the choice Trevor sets forth in the epigraph:

There are certain men who, faced with the choice of dying or doing the impossible, elect to live. This story is written in honour of their kind.

The “impossible”, for the survivors in the story, is to create a new aircraft out of the wreck of the “Salmon-Rees Skytruck passenger-conversion freighter” in which they’ve crashed. Luckily for them, there was a young and skilful aircraft designer on the flight; unluckily for them, he’s neurotic and highly strung. Maybe that’s why he’s called Stringer. Even when they manage to get more water by collecting dew and distilling engine-coolant, they can’t be sure that Stringer won’t crack up or stop cooperating.

And they can’t be sure of the dew either: sometimes the wind doesn’t visit the tiny spot where the Skytruck has crashed. So they suffer horribly from thirst even as they need strength and concentration to build their new plane. Like his character Stringer, Trevor knew a lot about aerodynamics and aircraft design, because he built model aircraft as a hobby. Unlike Stringer, he also knew a lot about human psychology and social dynamics. And he drew on all his knowledge to make his story exciting and unpredictable. If the survivors fail, they’ll die. But how might failure come? Will the metal and wires of the new plane let them down? Or their own water-starved bodies? Or the flawed psychology of one or both of the two men on whom their impossible task depends? The two men are Stringer, the man who will oversee the creation of the new plane, and Towns, the man who will have to fly it.

Trevor keeps the tension high right to the final chapter. I don’t think he conjures heat and sun as successfully as MacLean conjures cold and dark in Night Without End, but he opens the novel better and closes it better too. The final line is eleven words long and packs a punch, even as it manages to tip a wink. The title of the novel tells you whether the survivors manage to achieve the impossible, but that doesn’t matter. A good novel makes you live inside with its characters in their world. They don’t know whether they’ll live or die and nor, in a sense, do you. Even when, like me, you’ve already read the book several times and know exactly what’s going to happen.

But I didn’t wish that I could meet the characters again after I’d finished The Flight of the Phoenix, as I did with the characters of Night Without End. But that’s not a failure on Trevor’s part. He wraps up his novel perfectly and left me wanting only one thing: to read it again some day.

Collected Tales, Nikolai Gogol, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin 1999)

Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat” (1842) is one of the most influential short-stories ever written. But I’d never read it until earlier this year, when I came across it in the collection Chilling Ghost Stories (Flame Tree 2015). I was so impressed with its strangeness, humour and concern-for-the-underdog that I wanted to read more of Gogol’s stories.

And now I have. Or at least, I’ve tried to. This Collected Tales was a disappointment and I didn’t manage to finish all of the stories in it. There were flashes of strangeness and humor in “St John’s Eve” and “Viy”. And it was interesting to read about Gogol’s Ukrainian birth and background in the introduction. But only two other stories came close to matching “The Overcoat”. They complete the list of Gogol’s most famous stories: “The Nose” and “The Diary of a Madman”. I’d heard of them before I ever read a word of Gogol (but I don’t remember hearing about “The Overcoat”). Unlike “The Overcoat”, which starts realistic and turns strange, “The Nose” starts strange and turns stranger. The barber Ivan Yakovlevich, who “like every decent Russian artisan was a terrible drunkard”, finds something unexpected in the loaf he’s cutting for breakfast:

“Where did you cut that nose off, you beast?” she shouted wrathfully. “Crook! Drunkard! I’ll denounce you to police myself! What a bandit! I’ve heard from three men already that you pull noses so hard that they barely stay attached.”

But Ivan Yakovlevich was more dead than alive. He recognized the nose as belonging to none other than the collegiate assessor Kovalev, whom he shaved every Wednesday and Saturday.

Elsewhere in Petersburg, Kovalev himself wakes to find that “instead of a nose he had a perfectly smooth place.” He goes hunting for his missing nose, which Yakovlevich has guiltily thrown into the River Neva. But it doesn’t stay there:

Suddenly [Kovalev] stopped as if rooted outside the doors of one house; before his eyes an extraordinary phenomenon occurred: a carriage stopped at the entrance; the door opened; a gentleman in a uniform jumped out, hunching over, and ran up the stairs. What was Kovalev’s horror as well as amazement when he recognized him as his own nose! […] Two minutes later the nose indeed came out. He was in a gold-embroidered uniform with a big standing collar; he had kidskin trousers on; at his side hung a sword. […] He looked both ways, shouted “Here!” to the driver, got in, and drove off.

Poor Kovalev nearly lost his mind. He did not know what to think of a such a strange incident. How was it possible, indeed, that the nose which just yesterday was on his face, unable to drive or walk – should be in a uniform!

Gogol was surrealist long before surrealism, but there’s social satire and existential angst beneath his dream-like imagery in a way there wasn’t in much of surrealism. And although “The Overcoat” in particular reminded me of Maupassant, whom I assume Gogol strongly influenced, that was only true until the tragicomic death of the protagonist, the down-trodden clerk Akaky Akakievich. He spends his life mocked by his fellow clerks as he copies documents in a dusty office in Petersburg:

It would hardly be possible to find a man who lived so much in his work. It is not enough to say that he served zealously – no, he served with love. There, in that copying, he saw some varied and pleasant world of his own. Delight showed in his face; certain letters were his favourites, and when he came to one of them, he was beside himself: he chuckled and winked and and helped out with his lips, so that it seemed one could read on his face every letter that his pen traced.

Maupassant could have brought Akaky Akakievich to life like that and conveyed the pathos of his life, but he would probably have ended the story with Akaky’s death. Gogol doesn’t and Akaky returns from beyond the grave to right the great wrong he suffered in life.

At least, it was a great wrong for him: the loss of his hard-earned new overcoat, with a “chintz” lining and a collar made from cat-fur, “the best” he and a tailor friend “could find in the shop,” which “from afar could always be mistaken for marten.” Gogol is good at little details like that, even in the stories that I disliked. I’m not alone in disliking them, I was relieved to learn: Vladimir Nabokov said of Gogol that “whenever he tried to write in the round hand of literary tradition and to treat rational ideas in a logical way, he lost all trace of talent. When, as in the immortal ‘The Overcoat’, he really let himself go and pottered on the brink of his private abyss, he became the greatest artist that Russia has yet produced.”

Well, I was impressed by “The Overcoat” when I first read it, but is it really that good? I don’t know, because I can’t read it in the original Russian. I assume that even the boring stories here would have read better if Nabokov had translated them, but although I was disappointed by much of this collection, I’m not sorry to have tried it. Only the mediocre are always at their best and Gogol wasn’t a mediocre writer.

As the toxic stench of Trump begins – at last! – to fade in our traumatized nostrils, how better to begin the new year here at Papyrocentric Performativity than an interview with the proud Black-African Diasporan, anti-racism activist, and literary scholar Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum?

Important Note: The interview has been formatted using special psycho-sensitive anti-racist software that will automatically scramble the text if it detects either toxicity or trauma in the reader. Please note, therefore, that you will be unable to understand the interview if a) you are white and racist; or b) you are a Person of Color and have been victimized by racism.


Dr Rebecca Samuels: Sa’hdof dkud iaau foov Trump zhavor?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Kuv’z a fakurhi čaafphkučavod zvaari. Kumm ngo ptzi čaaffummkuvi wo’vo ahwaiz fohv a čhaazo affkummkuvi wkirr aangor aapprozzod fkummaarkuvkuoz aum’r wo daa aaur mozv vaa wavčh ngokur mačiuz, hkuko. Kumm 2016 aar ngoroamaauvz, ku waz parv aaf a Nopzi črow g’aa hommv a hohpkirr haum’r vaa a mraangoh kumm zvaačiupaarv ngav waz havkirr a fow praamhofz wkirr haafaaphaamkuč mmokughmaaurz. Fi mhaaod zvkuhh maakuhz g’omm ku ngkummk amaauv kuv, vaa mo haammozv.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r iaau zakud ioz vaa ngo mhaaw-jaamz?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Sohh, ku aum’r a čaaupho aaf fi favoz kumm ngo črow dkud. Ku’f ahwaiz up faar a mmow oxporkuommčo, az kuv woro! Aum’r ngav’z haaw ku fov f’savo zhavor. Haaz ho waz waarkkirr kumm ngo mraangoh, az aammo aaf ngo rommv-maaiz.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r ho gavo iaau ngo ksoo mhaaw-jaam?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Aum’r kuv waz a fučiukirr gaaod aammo vaao. Mmaav ngo mozv ku’vo ovor had, hkuko, muv kumm ngo vaap vwommvi, oazkuhi.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r iaau gaav čhavvkirr aum’r dkuzčaavorod iaaur zharod pazzkuaamm faar čaarpzo-čaammvof phavkuaamm?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Kuv’z mmavurah iaau zhaauhd ngkummk ngav, muv mmaa, mmaav rkughv ngomm. Mmaav aamm ngav fkurzv aaččazkuaamm. F’savo dkudmm’v zai fučh, juzv gaav daawmm vaa waark, az kuv woro. Muv az ku zakud, kuv waz a fučiukirr gaaod mhaaw-jaam, zaa amaauv a faarvmmkughv havor, g’omm ku waz kumm ngo zvaačiupaarv aroa aamm muzkummozz aum’r had amm haaur aar vwaa vaa kkuhh, ku paappod kumm av ngo mraangoh aum’r azkod faar ammaangor aammo aaff hkuf. Ammaangor mhaaw-jaam, ku foamm, aaff f’savo.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r ngkuz vkufo iaau gaav čhavvkirr wkirr f’savo zhavor?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Oxačvhi. Wo gaav čhavvkirr afvor ho’d gkuvomm fo ngo mhaaw-jaam aum’r dkuzčaavorod aaur zharod pazzkuaamm faar čaarpzo-čaammvofphavkuaamm, az iaau zaa mmkučohi puv kuv. Aum’r ngo mmoxv vkufo f’savo waz aavor kumm hkuvorpaaoh, ho gaav kumm vaaučh aum’r wo had a fow pkummvz. Kuv ahh zaarv aaf mhaazzaafod ksaaf ngoro. Wo zvarvod foovkirr roguharhi vaa wavčh doang-fkuhf aum’r čaarpzo-vkudz vaagongor.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r ngav’z haaw iaau čafo vaa wrkuvo Kkuhhkirr faar čuhvuro?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Aauv aaf vkummi aaakz vahh ačaarmmz graaw! kuf fo aum’r fi ptzi favoz hadmm’v hohpod aauv ngav gai mraangoh kumm zvaačiupaarv, ku’d praamamhi mmovor havo fov f’savo aum’r praamamhi Kkuhhkirr faar čuhvuro waauhd mmovor havo moomm wrkuvvomm. Ku’d had zaafongkirr kumm fkuum’r ahaang ngaazo hkummoz, muv f’savo’z hohp roahhi waz kummvahuamho. Mmaav juzv hkuz kmmaag’odgo aum’r hkuz čaammvačvz, muv hkuz vori zpočiuuah rohaxavkuaamm vočhmmkuquoz!

Dr Rebecca Samuels: F’skud iaau ovor gkuvo kumm?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Wohh, ku uzod vaa zai vaa hkuf, “f’savo, ku’hh muf iaau afvor wo’vo zoomm a zmmuff-faavkuo vaagongor!”

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Zaa havo iaau ovor muffod f’savo zhavor?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Wohh, ku’hh zai ngkuz, hkuko. Ku’vo muffod f’savo zhavor az fammi vkufoz az ku’vo zoomm a zmmuff-faavkuo!

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r haaw fammi vkufoz havo iaau zoomm a zmmuff-faavkuo?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Az fammi vkufoz az ku’vo muffod f’savo zhavor!

Dr Rebecca Samuels: G’aa waauhd iaau zai haz moomm ngo faazv kufpaarvammv kummfhuommčo aamm iaaur hkufo?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Poaapho aafvomm azk fo ngkuz aum’r, iaau kmmaaw, ngoi oxpočv fo vaa zai ngav kuv waz Wkuhhkuaf murraaughz aar offammuoh Kammv aar zaf zahavva aar zaafoaammo hkuko ngav. Aum’r ioah, ngoi havo ahh moomm vori kufpaarvammv kummfhuommčoz aamm fo, muv ngo faazv kufpaarvammv kummfhuommčo aamm fo waz zaafoaammo ohzo. Mmaav ammiaammo fafaauz, muv zaafoaammo vori, vori kummfhuommvkuah mmaammongohozz.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: G’aa waz kuv?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Kuv waz fi faaf, fkurkufa Korokoz. Poaapho aafvomm zai vaa fo ngav ngoi fkuum’r fo amm ummuzuahhi haammozv aum’r ongkučah porzaamm, g’kučh kuz aamvkuaauzhi a mmkučo ngkirr vaa hoar, daamm’v gov fo wraang, muv ku vako amzaahuvohi mmaa fučiukirr črodkuv faar kuv. Kuv’z ahh daawmm vaa fi faaf. Zho mraaughv fo up vaa mo pazzkuaammavo amaauv ngroo ngkirrz. Fkurzv, prkudo kumm fi ptzi horkuvago. Zočaaum’r, zvrkučv adhorommčo vaa a pakummfuhhi haammozv ongkučah čaado.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Juzv vaa oxphakumm faar poaapho g’aa daamm’v kmmaaw – iaaur faangor waz a rofugoo ksaaf čaaffummkuzv Raafammkua, rkughv?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Amzaahuvohi rkughv. Zho hofv Raafammkua kumm ngo afvor ngo Ruzzkuamm kummvazkuaamm. Fhod ksaaf ngoro, rangor, juzv ahoad aaf ngo fučiukirr vammkz aum’r ngo fkurkirr-zquadz. Aum’r zho wazmm’v a famm aaf čaaffummkuzf, vaa puv kuv fkuhdhi!

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Aum’r g’av waauhd, quaavo, ačvkirr hkuko a čaaffummkuzv, ummquaavo, ommvakuh?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Mazkučahhi, zho foammv ammi kkuum’r aaf mohavkuaaur ngav vkuaahavod kuum’rkuvkuduah auvaammaafi, ngav phačod ngo čaahhočvkuvo amaavo ngo kuum’rkuvkuduah. Ngo zaarv aaf fučiukirr ngkirr iaau zaw ahh ngo vkufo uum’ror čaaffummkuzf, faazv aamvkuaauzhi wkirr ngo zočrov paahkučo. Iaau kmmaaw, ngo kumm ngo zaavkuov Ummkuaamm, ngo zvazku kumm oazv Gorfammi, ngo zočurkuvavo kumm Raafammkua, aum’r zaa aamm.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Vaarvuro, rkuggod vrkuahz, zhavo-hamaaur čafpz, ngkirrz hkuko ngav?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Aamvkuaauzhi ngav kkuum’r aaf ngkirr, muv aangor zvuff čaafoz uum’ror kuv vaao. Ku foamm, kuf iaau ngkummk aaf ngo odward zmmaawdomm rovohavkuaammz, ngo mmza aavor kumm ngo zvavoz aum’r horo kumm ngo aro mohavkirr hkuko čaaffummkuzvz, mi fi faaf’z črkuvorkua.

Dr Rebecca Samuels: Zurvokuhhammčo, zpikirr, vroavkirr ngo ommvkuro paapuhavkuaamm az zuzpočvz?

Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum: Oxačvhi! Afvor hor oxporkuommčoz kumm Baafammkua, fi faaf havod ngav kkuum’r aaf ngkirr, amzaahuvohi fučiukirr havod kuv. Aum’r kuf ku ovor parvkučiuupavod kumm ammingkirr hkuko ngav, ngomm ku waauhd mo, kumm hor waardz, “zpkuvvkirr kumm iaaur paaor faaffa’z fačo.” Zaa ku daamm’v parvkučiuupavo kumm kuv. Fuhh zvaap.

Killer Chiller ThrillerNight Without End, Alistair MacLean (1959)

Above and BelowThe Archaeology of Underground Mines and Quarries in England, John Barnatt (Historic England 2019)

Wannabe Wonder-WeaverThe Best of Robert Westall Volume One, Robert Westall (1993)

All Glitter, No GlowA.C. Swinburne: A Poet’s Life, Rikky Rooksby (Scolar Press 1997)

Recycle, RepeatRevival, Stephen King (2014)

Gained in TranslationCuentos de Averoigne: Todos los Cuentos de Averoigne de Clark Ashton Smith, traducción de Enric Navarro (Pickman’s Press 2019)

Sean of the HeadAm I Evil? The Autobiography, Brian Tatler with John Tucker (2009; second edition 2017)

Posted at Overlord of the Über-Feral:

Maximal MozMorrissey in Conversation: The Essential Interviews, ed. Paul A. Woods (Plexus 2016)

Absence and EssenceAbandoned: The Most Beautiful Forgotten Places from Around the World, Mathew Growcoot (Ebury Press 2017)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR